Have you recently bought new tyres? There's a chance your old ones could now be part of a hockey field.
Pacific Rubber, established during the global financial crisis, collects old car tyres that would have gone to landfill. They turn the tyres into rubber 'crumbs' that are used in all-weather sports fields, such as the ones recently constructed at Auckland high schools St Peter’s College and Westlake Girls.
Synthetic sports fields are popular because they require less maintenance, they save water, and they cope better in bad weather, meaning there are less weather-related cancellations throughout the season.
“Tyres are a waste problem that no one wants to touch,” says Andrew Christie, co-founder of Pacific Rubber.
“When they’re sent to landfill they don’t break down, and after a while they start seeping chemicals into the ground.”
By recycling old tyres, Pacific Rubber cut down New Zealand’s annual landfill waste by 4000 tonnes last year alone.
New Zealand’s rubber recycling rates have lagged well behind those of Europe and the United States, with less than 20 percent of tyre waste being recycled.
“In the US and Europe they don’t put the tyres in the ground, because they know that it’s actually really bad for the environment,” says Christie.
“New Zealand’s recycling rates do not reflect our clean green image.”
Christie, who previously worked in investment banking in Hong Kong and London, returned to New Zealand in 2008 after seeing the global financial crisis as an opportunity.
“I knew assets were going to be pretty cheap, and I was lucky that I was in a good position where I could invest in something,” he says.
He teamed up with engineers Stuart Monteith and Owen Young. Monteith travelled the world “three times over” looking for parts to construct the recycling plant from.
They invested in two financially-troubled tyre waste collection businesses, then got to work gathering tyres before processing them at their Takanini plant.
Since then, the business has grown from two staff members to 16, with five full-time trucks collecting tyres all over the North Island.
Pacific Rubber is now New Zealand’s largest manufacturer of recycled rubber and collector of tyre waste. About half of the company’s revenue comes from waste collection, and the other half from recycled rubber and street sales.
By last year, Pacific Rubber had stopped all recycled rubber imports from Asia – a rubber source New Zealand formerly relied on.
“It also works out a lot cheaper for them because the rubber doesn’t have to be imported,” says Christie.
“And Kiwis love buying goods and services off other New Zealanders.”
For the last three years, he says, Pacific Rubber has had an annual turnover growth exceeding 500 percent, and it does not look set to slow down.
Recently, Australia has started using recycled rubber for road surfaces – a technique common in the United States and Europe. It means about 20 percent of Pacific Rubber’s output is now exported.
Christie says the sustainable nature of Pacific Rubber’s business makes their work more rewarding.
“It’s a real thrill,” says Christie.
“I wouldn’t profess to being a greenie, but it’s definitely nice to know your work is having a positive impact.”